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Blair inspires Highlanders to win

allblacks.com

Monday, March 21, 2005    NZPA    allblacks.com

Blair shrugged off his unwanted title of Crusaders cast-off and assumed a new one - Highlanders hero scoring 28 points against the Sharks in Durban.

His three tries, five conversions and a penalty in the 43-7 win, was a Highlanders record, usurping the 26 managed by Simon Culhane against the Reds in 1998.

Blair also became just the sixth Highlander to score a hat-trick, joining To'o Vaega (1996), Doug Howlett (1997), Jeff Wilson and Jeremy Stanley (in the Highlanders v Sharks game in 1998) and Ryan Nicholas (2002).

Named the official man of the match, the fullback humbly downplayed his individual contribution and shared the praise with his teammates.

"Everything worked out pretty well. It's always nice to get some tries," he said.

"The boys were on fire in the first 25 minutes. We got some quick ball in the backs and we were able to run on to it. It was fun."

There, in the plain words of the West Coast-raised Highlanders draft player was a neat summation of this tremendous Highlanders performance.

The forwards laid the platform, halfback Jimmy Cowan provided clean and quick delivery and the backs hit the ball at pace and showed the sort of passing skills their fans have been desperate to see for years.

Anthony Tuitavake had his best game at centre, Matt Saunders was polished and effective on the left wing, Cameron MacIntyre played well at first five-eighths and Blair reveled in the gaps that opened up before him.

Cowan made an emphatic and timely return to form with the sort of industrious and potent display that got him into the All Blacks, and his combination at the base of the scrum with Paul Miller at No 8 was superb.

There were shades of last year's early try-fest against the Stormers when the Highlanders raced to a 28-0 lead after just 20 minutes.

Saunders, McIntyre and lock James Ryan combined to put Cowan in for the opening try.

Ryan then stole a lineout, Tuitavake broke two tackles before popping the ball up to Blair for the second; and Blair touched down again following a wonderful sequence of play in which the ball passed through a dozen sets of hands.

Seilala Mapusua scored the bonus point fourth try when he crashed over after a 5m scrum.

The Sharks pulled one back with a Charl van Rensburg try immediately after the break, before Blair got his third and added a penalty, as the game lost its pattern, the substitutes came on and the Highlanders were set on protecting their lead.

Ryan got his first Rebel Sport Super 12 try at the end, a fitting finish for both the player and his team.

The Highlanders have a chance to be unbeaten against all four South African teams this season, something they last managed in 2002, when they play the Cats at Ellis Park on Saturday morning (NZT).